Comcast’s Brian Roberts took center stage at The Cable Show last week in more ways than one. Every time he addressed an audience, Roberts had a new Comcast feature or service to introduce. And while the iPad news generated the most buzz, I was far more interested in the announcement that Comcast is about to bring 11,000 movies to its VOD library. Right now, Netflix – heck the entire Web – is one big on-demand catalog of content. But cable companies have a huge advantage in the space if they can pull off upgrades to their VOD services. Nothing beats the convenience of click-to-order right from your TV remote using an existing service provider relationship.
There are a few points people will argue with me here. One is the idea that 11,000 movies can compare to the entire Internet. Of course it can’t. But a huge percentage of people will find what they want in a catalog with 11,000 choices. Second is the user interface argument. Sure it could be a lot better, but once users click on a movie selection, they don’t have to interact with the guide again. For most people, that’s good enough. Third, there’s a price issue. Renting movies a la carte using VOD is a lot more expensive than a Netflix subscription, which today lets you stream an unlimited number of features each month. However, using VOD for individual movies is comparable to other one-off video services. And I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see cable operators play around with other subscription models (akin to Netflix) in the future. Why not? It could be beneficial to consumers who want to watch a lot of content, and it would give operators more predictable revenue.
Keep an eye out for other cable operators to push the VOD envelope along with Comcast. Time Warner Cable’s Jeffrey Bewkes also made a comment last week that getting more VOD content has to be a priority. And as to whether cable operators can support VOD service growth, given what’s going on behind the scenes at Comcast, I’d say at least the nation’s biggest MSO is making the upgrades necessary to continue rolling out more content and more advanced services.